The Ring Of Pines
by DEREK PARKER
BACK in the 1960s American singer Pat Boone popularised a gospel song entitled 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken.'
This poignant paen of praise enshrines the belief that bright memories of our departed loved ones shine on undimmed. I remembered the inspirational melody during a recent visit to Muirshiel Country Park in the hills above Lochwinnoch.
My destination was the lonely landmark known as the Ring of Scots Pines. This solitary circle of conifer saplings crests a hillock mantled with heather and blaeberry shrubs at one of the highest points in the park.
Several yards in circumference, the arboreal attraction commemorates the late Don Skelley (1931-2008), who was the first director at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park which includes Muirshiel and Castle Semple Country Parks. The trees, protected in plastic tubes from browsing deer, rabbits and squirrels, were planted by park rangers, including well-known Lochwinnoch man Len Howcutt who worked at both parks for nearly 30 years until his recent retirement. The moorland memorial includes a plaque attached to a pine stump and engraved with the name of Mr Skelley who lived in Lochwinnoch until he passed away two years ago. It was he who interviewed me when I applied successfully for a countryside ranger post at Muirshiel quarter-of-a-century ago. So my visit to the Ring of Scots Pines was a personal tribute to the director of the park where I worked for 14 happy years.
The sylvan sanctuary incarnates sacred symbols. Circles represent eternity because they have no beginning nor end. This is just like friendships which remain inviolate and eternal, transcending the darkness of death. Evergreen trees like Scots Pines symbolise immortality because their foliage illuminates barren winter wastelands when deciduous species become dormant and die. This is like the flame of joyful memories gleaming on through the darkness experienced by human souls grief-stricken by the separation through death of their loved ones.
Last month was November. That's when people past and present from many cultures remember their venerable deceased ancestors. In Celtic times, prehistoric people who lived in the countryside around Lochwinnoch believed they were visited at this time of year by the Sluath – the Heavenly Host of the Dead.
These ghostly visitants were said to wear grey sepulchral shrouds and take the frightful form of wailing phantoms returning to their earthly haunts. This old ancestor remembrance tradition was later Christianised. Today, it appears on Christian calendars in the form of All Saints' day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2).
So this belief that old friendships survive death is immortalised in the Ring of Scots Pines landmark at Muirshiel Country Park. It's a vegetational vestige of that unbroken circle proclaiming that those whom we love and honour never die. They live on forever in our hearts.
Derek Parker worked as a countryside ranger at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Lochwinnoch, from 1985 to 1999.